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A historic act by the chief of staff
By Amram Mitzna

For the past three years, the Israeli government has been waging an "uncompromising war against terrorism" through the Israel Defense Forces and the security services. In the course of this "combat," the IDF returned to the Palestinian cities, put checkpoints throughout the West Bank, placed entire cities under curfew, isolated Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, demolished houses and liquidated terrorist leaders. Nevertheless, the terrorism intensified, the casualties - on both sides - continued to rise, the hatred between the two nations deepened and the State of Israel, like its Palestinian neighbor, continued to decline.

The economy began to collapse, and with it the social resilience that made possible Israel's establishment and its firm stand in the face of the external threats that have been aimed at the country throughout its existence. The demographic balance has been reversed and a concrete threat has been created to Israel's continued existence as a democracy. Cracks have begun to appear even in the army, the symbol of national unity, which has always been left out of political disputes. Israel plunged to an unprecedented nadir in all spheres, but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his sons dictated the tone: to invoke the right of silence.

For three years, an attempt was made to silence the criticism by means of the old slogan, "Quiet, we're shooting," and the contention that the critics were adversely affecting the security of the state. The concept, which Sharon and Shaul Mofaz - first as chief of staff, then as defense minister - formulated with considerable talent was that all the Palestinian organizations, and in effect the entire Palestinian population, support terrorism and desire Israel's destruction; that the Palestinian Authority is no less an enemy than the leaderships of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and therefore we must not talk with it, still less believe it; and that terrorism can be defeated by the use of military force.

The failure of the concept was apparent from the initial stages of the fighting. The dry figures showed immediately that the more we pounded the Palestinians, the more terrorist attacks there were. The more we beefed up our presence in the territories, the more casualties we sustained. And the more we lashed out at Arafat, the stronger he became. It was obvious to any sensible person that IDF policy in the territories was undermining the security of Israel's citizens and was contrary to the state's interests. Far from defeating terrorism, the prevailing policy - closures, checkpoints, liquidations - is creating terrorism. It is heightening the hatred of Israel, isolating the country internationally and placing us in existential danger.

However, both the government and the IDF continued to labor under the mistaken concept that maintains terrorism can be defeated only by means of military force. As though in a stupor, the government ministers followed the Sharon-Mofaz concept and missed no opportunity to torpedo every attempt to extricate Israel from the quagmire into which Sharon has plunged it, after extricating itself, battered and bloodied, from the Lebanese quagmire into which Sharon plunged it 20 years earlier.

The criticism of the government's policy that was voiced last week by the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, came as a surprise not only because of the way he chose to make it known, but mainly because of the fact that, until now, the chief of staff was part of the same concept and loyally carried out the orders of the political level. The future commission of inquiry that will examine this period will certainly expose the scale of the failure that occurred here, but there is no doubt that the remarks by the chief of staff - which exposed in the clearest possible way the immense gap between the concept that has guided the IDF and the reality of the situation - herald a turning point.

The method the chief of staff chose and the procedure involved can be criticized, but the time has come to start dealing with substance, and the substance is that, for the first time, the head of the army is admitting that the IDF cannot win and that the policy being pursued by the government is undermining security and causing irreversible damage to Israeli society, to the IDF and to the state. The most flagrant example is the dispute between the IDF and the defense minister over the route of the security fence. The army proposed a true security fence, whereas the defense minister was guided by political considerations.

Even if the Israeli public does not express gratitude to the chief of staff for his important act, history will do so. In contrast to the prime minister, who is cut off from the nation, doesn't feel the suffering and is not getting the message of the depth of the despair, and the defense minister, who is mixing politics with security considerations, the chief of staff is looking the country's mothers straight in the eye. He knows there is no justifiable explanation for the death of their children at Netzarim. He knows their presence there is not contributing to security and he is beginning to understand that there is no reason for us to be there at all. In contrast to the prime minister and the defense minister, who are treating the IDF soldiers like pawns on a chessboard, the chief of staff is concerned. Listen closely to what he is saying.

The State of Israel can defeat Palestinian terrorism, but only if the fighting is paralleled by a political process. Separation from the Palestinians by agreement, which will make possible Israel's reestablishment as a Jewish, democratic state within permanent borders that are recognized by the entire international community, will be a true victory not only over the threats of terrorism but also over the demographic threat. The military path has failed, and the time has come to return to the path of negotiations. The Geneva understandings prove this is possible. History will not forgive those who choose to send the nation's children into a needless war.

© Copyright 2003 Haaretz. All rights reserved


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